Plan will provide decision-making framework for the next 15 years

By Randy Parks
Burns Times-Herald

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, as dictated by law, has drafted a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) which is scheduled to be released in early February.

The draft, which has been two years in the making, is the result of a collaborative process in which interested parties and diverse stakeholders were involved in all phases of the planning.

Colby Marshall, one of the stakeholders in the CCP process, explained that part of the success in drafting the CCP was a result of the High Desert Partnership and their ability to create solutions by bringing all sides and opinions together to formulate a common goal. “It takes time and effort to build a plan, and we wanted to build one that could be implemented,” Marshall said.

Marshall added that the plan sought a balance among community, ecological and economic factors.

Those attending the meetings agreed that the CCP should establish a process to restore the refuge’s aquatic health, enhance wildlife habitat, generate sustainable local and regional economic benefits, and revitalize relationships with stakeholders in the community.

Refuge Manager Tim Bodeen compared working through the process to making soup. “You’ve got the meat, potatoes and vegetables as the main elements. Then everyone else brings along a certain spice to add to the final product,” Bodeen said.

The CCP, and the upcoming Inventory and Monitoring Plan are meant to establish a decision-making framework to guide the 187,000-acre refuge’s direction for the next 15 years, and will require continued stakeholder engagement and outreach from the refuge. “Judging by the number of partners who want to stay involved will give us an idea how well the plan is working,” Bodeen said.

Jay Kerby of The Nature Conservancy noted that the Harney County Restoration Collaboration, a High Desert Partnership initiative, had success with the Jane Project on the Malheur National Forest, and the collaboration on the CCP was formulated along those same lines. “You’ve got state and/or federal agencies working with ranchers, community groups, environmental groups and others and they all learn from each other and move forward,” Kerby said.

Marshall added that there is a lot of potential for further successes in other areas. “Using the same model, built off the High Desert Partnership effort, could be used for other government agencies around Southeast Oregon,” he said.

Kerby said that while not all at the meetings saw eye-to-eye on everything, it was an opportunity for everyone to sit down and have a discussion on key issues such as the carp population, as well as haying and grazing. The adaptive management portion was also a key part of the talks as it allows for flexible decision making, which can be adjusted as outcomes from management actions are studied and understood. “For example, the permittee will have the ability to sit down with an ecological working group and have data to work off of for future decision making,” Kerby said. “There is a mutual agreement among the parties on the process.”

“A tool to support innovation,” Bodeen added.

All three men agreed that having all interests able to sit down and discuss the process was key to getting the CCP draft finished. “It was important to have diverse groups like the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) at the table and I give them credit for staying in the process,” Marshall said. “Everyone has concerns, and the talks were open and productive which allowed everyone to stay at the table.”

A copy of the CCP draft will be available in several formats at the beginning of February.

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